Home » The benefits of taking the train to Machu Picchu (and what to expect)

The benefits of taking the train to Machu Picchu (and what to expect)

written by Katie Lockhart January 9, 2018
Machu Picchu train

Hop off the train onto the platform in Machu Picchu town (AKA Aguas Calientes) and you’ll find yourself surrounded by a forest of clouds. The scenery looks like something out of Jurassic Park and, even better, it takes just 90 minutes to get there.

When I read that on my 9-day Classic Peru tour we were taking the train to Machu Picchu I breathed a sigh of both relief and excitement. Relief in knowing that I had other options besides the painstakingly long and arduous Inca Trail trek (or the equivalent offered by Intrepid, the Quarry Trail). Excitement about the stunning scenery I was going to see on my way to this iconic UNESCO site.

Here’s what it was like, why I believe it’s such a great option for travelers, and what you need to know before embarking:

Why take the train over the hike?

If you prefer a more laid-back approach to travel or are just pressed for time, the hour-and-a-half train ride from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu Town is the way to go. Sitting back and looking out the window is a great way to see how people really live in between the big cities tourists visit.

Machu Picchu trainAlso, as an American, having just two-weeks vacation per year means choosing my time off wisely. Pair that with my distaste for hiking and physical activity in general and hopping on the train was a no-brainer.

INSPIRATIONAL READ: THE ROAD TO MACHU PICCHU STARTS AT 385 LBS

I also wanted to have enough energy to actually enjoy Machu Picchu. Seeing this Incan treasure was one of the main reasons I wanted to do the Classic Peru Tour in the first place. I had heard from some friends that once you get off the Inca Trail you’re so exhausted you don’t even want to explore Machu Picchu’s ruins. I certainly didn’t want that to be the case for my special trip.

Machu Picchu train
With my boyfriend at magical Machu Picchu

TAKE THE TRAIN TO MACHU PICCHU ON THIS SMALL GROUP ADVENTURE WITH INTREPID TRAVEL

How to get to Machu Picchu by train

As the most popular way to get there, PeruRail and Inca Rail both have trains leaving constantly throughout the day from multiple cities. You can either depart from Ollantaytambo or from Cusco. Our Intrepid tour leader Daniel Ramos told us that there is no real difference between PeruRail and Inca Rail. Both get you there and give you similar service.

Our tour favored the Ollantaytambo route and I’m glad it did. We spent the morning perusing a local market in Pisac then made our way through the Sacred Valley. For lunch, we stopped and had a traditional meal with an Amaru community of women who showed us how they weave. After that, we spent the afternoon climbing historical Inca ruins and chowing down on local pizza in Ollantaytambo. This charming little town is the last living Inca town in Peru so for me, it was a can’t-miss.

Machu Picchu train
The journey

After dinner, our Intrepid leader Daniel walked us to the train station. All of our tickets and assigned seats were pre-arranged for us. If you’re going sans tour, it will cost between $45 and $55 USD. Be sure to book ahead of time, especially during peak season.

This price gets you executive class seats which include a drink and a snack. There are several signature drinks to choose from including the famous coca tea. I chose the Andean Cocktail, sadly, it had no alcohol, just delicious fruit juices.

Train Machu Picchu
The train interior (and our wonderful guide)

VISIT MACHU PICCHU ON ONE OF INTREPID’S MANY TOURS

Here’s what you need to know before boarding

If you spent too much time wandering the alleyways of Ollantaytambo or Cusco, the complimentary cookie and beverage served on board probably won’t tide you over. Be sure to stop for some chips, a sandwich or beer and wine as you walk into the train station, there are dozens of options.

Machu Picchu train
Boarding the train

The train snakes its way along the Urubamba river slowly, but that doesn’t mean the ride can’t be bumpy. Try to find the train station bathroom before you get on the train because things get a lot trickier when the car is rocking back and forth.

Bring your camera! You’ll see stunning mountain vistas, snowy peaks and small communities along this rushing river and you’ll want to capture these moments before they’re literally out of sight. During the journey, our Intrepid guide pointed out various Inca sites as well as Veronica peak, the second highest mountain in the area.

After a long day of walking up and down Machu Picchu, the train may rock you to sleep. Try to get all your photos and videos on the way there or order a cup of tea to keep you awake. Again, you won’t want to miss out on the views.

Don’t be alarmed if somewhere on the way from Aguas Calientes to Ollantayambo the train grinds to a stop and you see the conductor jump off the side. I almost had a heart attack when I saw it, but when I kept watching he was just physically performing a switchback on the tracks to adjust for the change in elevation. Don’t worry, he got right back in.

Machu Picchu train
The views

Getting to the magical ruins of Machu Picchu was much easier than I expected. The relaxing train ride was a welcome change of pace as I watched Peru whiz by my window. And the ruins themselves? Even better than I’d imagined they might be.

Ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime? Take on Machu Picchu with Intrepid Travel.

(Image credits from top bottom: Intrepid Travel, Katie Lockhart, Intrepid Travel, Katie Lockhart x2, Intrepid Travel.)

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23 comments

Kevin Groh January 4, 2019 - 1:55 am

Peru by train is so amazing and so relaxing. I’ve been on the Peru Rail Expedition train and the Vistadome train. Definitely prefer the Vistadome train. More space and just a little more upscale feeling than the Expedition. The windows are great! So large with such great views!

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Michel November 8, 2018 - 3:58 am

Thanks ! Would you recommend doing a 2 days trip ?

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Anonymous August 5, 2018 - 8:38 am

My partner had heart problems not enough to stop us travelling. If we travelled to Machu Pichu by train would that be ok?

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Christina Desy March 24, 2018 - 2:56 pm

Hi.

Do you have the updates for 2018? I am wondering how long I can stay around the site if I have a Montana+Machu Picchu ticket for the 9am entrance. I am planning to skip lunch and restroom break in a hope that I can avoid purchasing the basic afternoon entrance ticket, unless they are checking my ticket again when I exit. If the 3PM exit limit still applies for 2018, that will be super great for me since I don’t have to buy the basic afternoon entrance ticket.

Thank you in advance.

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Betty February 26, 2018 - 3:23 am

Great read! And my kind of trip—was thinking about Iceland, but now…..

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rick be February 23, 2018 - 3:02 am

My tour went thru Sacred Valley ruins,we stopped for a buffet that had alpaca on the menu. Then the train to AC & the climb up in the morning.I went on to Puno before returning to Lima.

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Anonymous February 22, 2018 - 9:37 am

There are two trains in fact. One is first class with reserved seats and snacks, the other is a much cheaper, free for all, first come, first served kind of thing. Great for those financially challenged. I took the more expensive one and I’m glad I did. I’m just trying to point out, that you don’t have to be rich to get to Macchu Picchu.

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Anonymous March 9, 2018 - 3:54 pm

Tourists are not allowed on the other train it is for locals unless something has changed in last year… I have been there many times!

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Sandra February 20, 2018 - 12:40 pm

I did this about 10 years ago. What a trip would Definately do it again

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Rebecca Shapiro February 21, 2018 - 7:48 am

So glad to hear you enjoyed, Sandra! It’s such a wonderful place. Happy travels!

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Toni February 19, 2018 - 1:14 pm

Visiting this place is on my bucket list. Train it is.

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Bill Harrington February 16, 2018 - 6:44 pm

I did this forty years ago…took the peasant train from Cuzco along with livestock and produce and colourful locals. Stayed overnight in Agua Caliente sleeping on benches in a huge room…seemed the only accommodation then. ..unless you paid for the fancier hotel up top or hid in the ruins overnight.

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Ebenezer Salavaria January 19, 2018 - 9:31 am

On my 60th birthday my only daughter Ling took me to Manchu Picchu on November 22, 2015 as my birthday gift. It was the best gift in my life time. The place is amazing and the best part of it is when Ling and me where on the top of Huayna Picchu looking down the panoramic view of the ruins. It was fantastic. Every direction you look at, is magnificent. All the effort and fear was rewarded and above all the bond between me and Ling from good to much better. We stayed one night at Agua Calliente. The whole day we spent in Macchu Picchu and before sun set we took the train to Ollantaytambo for the evening. The following morning our private tour guide came take us Ollantaytambo Fortress on the outskirts of the settlement in a section known as the Temple Hill. From there our tour guide took us to Maras Salt Mines and to Moray, the Inca site known for its round terraces. Along the way we stop a place where women are waving wool using natural colors. I bought some sweaters. From there our driver brought us back to Cusco where we eat dinner with the locals. The food was excellent and the best part of it is organic and very good but very cheap. After dinner they drove us to the airport. We took the night flight from Cusco to Lima then back to the USA. If I have chance I will visit again Macchu Picchu.

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Karen Winsor January 18, 2018 - 1:57 pm

I travelled to Machu Pichu in 1970 on the train. Our small group -6- slept in the ruins for 2 nights. Then we went to the Hotel after climbing the Inca Trail and returning. I went back in 2016 and again by train. Spectacular!!

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wayne arnold January 16, 2018 - 3:01 pm

It should be noted that there are luggage weight restrictions when taking the train.

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Patti Spamers February 13, 2018 - 4:10 pm

What is the weight restrictions for luggage?

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scott February 16, 2018 - 2:44 pm

Travelled to Aguas Calientes from Cuzco with 7 friends a couple years ago. I recall no baggage restrictions.

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Anonymous February 26, 2018 - 6:30 am

11 lbs

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Paul Campeau January 15, 2018 - 7:49 am

I did the Inca Trail in 1978 with a friend, it was a great adventure, enjoyed every step. The train route is also enjoyable as a tourist. Back then I stayed at the State Tourist Hotel & rested up & then climbed Huayna Picchu when the tourist buses arrived up the switch back road, then climbed back down when they left. The hotel cost then was $24.40 US for a double room and $5 US for 3 meals. Times have changed, I would love to return as a tourist some day, these ruins are spectacular.

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Anonymous January 14, 2018 - 7:45 am

We took the train and were glad we did. Some of the people in our group who hiked were so exhausted they couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel. We were feesh and rested and had a magical day at the ruins!

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Deb G January 13, 2018 - 12:51 pm

I did this 8 years ago and loved it. The train’s glass ceilings were my favorite-as we went between high vertical peaks and could see them above us. I never regretted not trekking, even once I heard my friends’ stories from the Trail.

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Jaime January 13, 2018 - 5:29 am

I’m Peruvian and over 40 years ago I visited Machu Picchu and did part of the Inca Trail in a reverse fashion starting from the ruins and back. That was when I was young and fit and let me tell you, it’s not for everyone. Some of the stairs you need to climb have steps over 20″ tall and are very steep such you end up crawling them. Then obviously I used the train to get there and on those times like Inger said, the ride was not as comfortable as it is today. You’re right, the train is the right choice for most people that want to visit this fabulous site. If you are not fit and in an excellent shape, don’t even try it. The combination of high altitude and rough terrain will make many people sick. It’s just a good way to spoil your vacation.

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Inger Norman January 11, 2018 - 10:23 am

20 years ago I started the ol’ trek but someone in our group got really sick. We turned back and opted for the train and never regretted it. In an age (now) where social media paints the pictures that the trek is the “only” way to do it right, I appreciate all the fabulous and beautiful things you pointed out about the train ride. Given how long ago it was, there was no executive class and at one point I was even sitting next to a box of baby chicks while playing with someone’s puppy. It was beautiful chaos and I loved it. Thank you for sharing the “other” way to get there.

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